The Joy of Overcoming Obstacles

After a stormy night, the trail I walk each morning was scattered with sticks and debris. As I hiked along the wooded path, I picked up a dozen large limbs and heaved them to the side in a gesture of goodwill towards the next traveler.

The warming sun sent smoky shafts of light through the cool forest mist. The soaking rain intensified the heady smell of pine straw carpeting the trail. My eyes remained on my feet to avoid slipping on the muddy slopes.

I came to a stop when I looked up to see a huge oak tree had fallen across my path. The trunk, three feet in diameter, hung precariously over the trail and stretched about forty feet each direction into the thick woods.

Ducking under the tree seemed unwise. Crawling over it wouldn’t be easy. I briefly considered turning around. Then stepping forward, I heard myself say, “The obstacle is the way.”

It was the title of a book I’d just read. Author Ryan Holiday draws on the ancient philosophy of Stoicism to encourage readers to face life’s challenges with resilience. Holiday writes, “Whatever we face, we have a choice: Will we be blocked by obstacles, or will we advance through and over them?”

Deciding a fallen tree wouldn’t stop my daily hike,  I stretched one leg on top of the trunk, grabbed hold of the thick bark to pull myself up and over and dropped ungracefully to the the other side. My arms and legs were dirty and scraped, but I felt surprisingly good.

When I reached the blocked path the next day, I crawled on the tree trunk and stood up to take in a higher view of the woods before jumping to the other side. This morning, I walked up and down the full length of the trunk like a balance beam. The fallen tree had become the best part of my morning.

Holiday believes overcoming obstacles in life requires the discipline of three critical steps:

1. Perception – How we view what happens around us can be a source of strength or weakness.

2. Action – We can always choose to act with deliberation, boldness and persistence.

3. Will – We have an internal power we shouldn’t allow the outside world to undermine.

Take notice of obstacles in your life. They may come in the form of disappointment, difficulty, rejection, injury, injustice, illness or heartbreak. When an obstacle appears – large or small – notice how you react to it. Do you accept it? Do you face it with grace and resilience? The good news is if we don’t handle it well, we will certainly get another chance to try again, because obstacles are a part of life.

More than 2,000 years ago, Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

I know the folks who maintain the hiking trail will eventually remove the fallen tree, but until then, it remains a fun daily reminder that the obstacle is the way. §

5 Ways Nature Inspires Healthy Eating

As a nature-lover, I lean towards a more natural lifestyle. I prefer to wear natural colors, decorate with natural objects, and use natural beauty products. In theory, I like to nourish my body with natural foods. So I feel like a real poser when writing about nature while artfully eating a small stack of Oreos.

Do you have an unhealthy food or beverage habit you’d like to break?

Do you want to make healthier eating a priority?

We have three more months to make good on those long-forgotten new year resolutions. It’s time to rally! Let’s hear it for more fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed sugar, fat and impossible-to-pronounce ingredients.

So how can nature inspire healthy eating?

The first step is to spend more time outdoors. Shake off the artificial sights, sounds and smells of indoor environments. Use your senses to get in touch with nature. Take a quiet, meditative walk and consider these five ways nature encourages us to make more nutritious choices.

  1. Nature’s Abundance ~ Most of us get our food from grocery stores, cafeterias, restaurants, vending machines and drive-through windows. Think about the original source of our most nutritious foods. Contemplate the miracle of food growing up from the ground and hanging from branches. Gratefully enjoy the healthy foods nature generously and abundantly provides for our sustenance.
  2. Nature’s Simplicity ~ Mankind has invented some pretty awesome things, which may or may not include double-stuffed Oreos. But when it comes to healthy eating, can anything top the simplicity of an apple? Leonardo Da Vinci wrote, “Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple, or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.”
  3. Nature’s Wisdom ~ In 2018, the U.S. weight loss industry was a 70 billion dollar market. Like so many things, we’ve made eating unnecessarily complicated. In Genesis 1:29, it is written, “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.'” There is such wisdom in nature, and I trust it far more than any celebrity peddling the latest fad diet.
  4. Nature’s Beauty. When I take a walk, I’m shocked by the amount of litter that spoils nature’s beauty. My trash bag quickly fills up with beer cans, chip and candy wrappers, fast food containers, plastic cups, lids and straws. Imagine how much less trash there would be on our planet if we didn’t purchase the unhealthy food and beverages that come wrapped in all that packaging.
  5. Nature’s Purity. The more time we spend in nature, the more attuned we are to what we eat. We connect with the seasons and cycles of our ecosystem. We notice the artificial colors, fragrances and flavors that are a normal part of the modern diet. We find the junk and gunk in processed foods distasteful. We long for pure, clean food as much as we long for pure, clean air.

Nature has always provided valuable answers and inspiration for our nutritional health. In 400 BC, Hippocrates said nature was the best physician and encouraged a natural diet to prevent disease. The father of medicine is attributed to this piece of advice, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Easy for him to say. Hippocrates was never tempted by an Oreo. §

Bloom and Grow

The unfurling of tiny green leaves and sweet blossoming flowers had me longing to write about personal growth ~ that natural urge to enrich and improve ourselves and our lives. I wasn’t exactly sure where the topic would take me, but I had a great quote from Mark Twain, and I felt certain something would emerge once I sat down to write.

I’ve returned to my hometown the past few weeks to care for my mother while she’s had a series of minor surgeries. She is recovering well from her most recent procedure and was up and about after breakfast this morning. “I think I’ll go to the library and try to write for a little while,” I told her.

Except for wireless Internet, the library hasn’t changed much since Mom took my sisters and me there when we were children. I intended to walk up the staircase to the second floor where I sometimes studied as a teenager, but I got lost in a memory of holding tightly to the oak banister wearing a red plaid dress and pigtails. I nostalgically ran my hand over the railing, worn smooth from use, and realized it had pulled me all the way up to the third floor where the children’s section used to be and still is.

Exchanging pleasantries with the librarian, I asked if I could sit at a small table and do some work. I positioned myself near a window hoping to be inspired by an elm tree bursting with new buds. There I sat in a quaint wooden chair, ignoring my laptop but absorbing every sight and smell of the familiar room.

I rose dreamlike and slowly ran my hand along a bookshelf, lightly touching the spines of Sounder, James and the Giant Peach, The Secret Garden, The Chronicles of Narnia and other childhood stories that still touch my heart.

For nearly an hour I tried to focus on writing, but my thoughts kept turning to a little girl I once knew who sat cross-legged in the corner happily reading Little House in the Big Woods. I shook her out of my mind and read the quote I had jotted down by Mr. Twain.

“What is the most rigorous law of our being? Growth. No smallest atom of our moral, mental, or physical structure can stand still a year. It grows ~ it must grow smaller or larger, better or worse ~ it cannot stand still. In other words, we change, and must change, constantly, and keep on changing as long as we live.” 

Springtime helps us understand what Twain was talking about. The sudden appearance of leaves, grass, and blooms are obvious reminders of the miracle and beauty of growth. The transformation that comes each spring is easier for us to appreciate than the much slower moral, mental, and physical growth to which Twain refers.

One day you’re a child sitting in a little chair reading a library book, and five decades later you’re sitting in the same little chair trying to write something meaningful ~ something that will encourage us to keep growing in mind, body, and soul like flowers in springtime. §